SpaceX Starship will be 150 meters tall in preparation for Mars missions, says Elon Musk (video)

By | April 13, 2024

SpaceX’s Starship, the world’s largest rocket, will get even bigger as the company continues its focus on Mars missions in the future.

Elon Musk, the billionaire founder of SpaceX, told employees on April 4 that the Starship will eventually reach a height of 500 feet, about 20 percent taller than the massive system aboard the Super Heavy rocket currently.

Furthermore, advances in reusability will mean each launch will cost about $3 million each, Musk predicted; that’s less than a third of what a (much smaller) Falcon 1 rocket launch cost in 2004 when inflation is taken into account. (According to NBC, the figure was $5.9 million 20 years ago, which equates to about $9.5 million in 2024 dollars.)

“These are quite unthinkable numbers,” Musk said in the Starship update, which was released publicly on April 6, about a month after the third and final test flight to date. “Nobody ever thought this was possible, but we’re not breaking any physics to achieve this. So this is within reason, without breaking physics. We can do this.”

Related: SpaceX fires up a massive Super Heavy booster ahead of the Starship’s fourth test flight (Photos, Video)

a large silver rocket flies through a golden morning skya large silver rocket flies through a golden morning sky

a large silver rocket flies through a golden morning sky

SpaceX Starship during a launch. (Image credit: SpaceX via X)

Musk tends to release Starship updates at least once a year to highlight the progress the company is making toward its long-term plans to settle Mars. There have indeed been three Starship launches in the past year, so there has been some progress lately. However, Musk did not address delays in the Starship launch that helped delay the launch date for the first moon landing under the NASA-led Artemis program.

SpaceX was named as the supplier for the Artemis 3 landing mission that until recently was scheduled for 2025. In January, NASA opted to delay the launch date another year, to 2026, due to a series of technical issues. Aside from the fact that Starship isn’t ready yet — the agency wants many successful launches before it is cleared for astronaut flights — Artemis 3 was also delayed due to slow progress on spacesuits and problems with the mission’s Orion spacecraft, among other things .

However, Musk’s words about Artemis, addressed to employees, focused on Starship’s future capabilities: orbiting Earth and refilling its tanks, both of which have yet to be proven during the three test flights.

“This will be … very important for the Artemis program for NASA to return to the moon,” Musk said of those capabilities. He also envisions a “Moon Base Alpha” that would include ships “specialized to go to and from the moon,” meaning there would be no heat shield or valves due to the lack of atmosphere.

Related: NASA celebrates SpaceX Starship’s third test flight, but more work is needed ahead of Artemis moon missions

a screenshot of a spaceship flying above the launch pada screenshot of a spaceship flying above the launch pad

a screenshot of a spaceship flying above the launch pad

SpaceX Starship Flight 3 will launch on March 14, 2024. (Image credit: SpaceX)

Musk’s 45-minute speech covered the usual themes for his Red Planet updates, focusing on how to send lots of cargo to the eventual colonists. He noted that this would require thousands of launches; for perspective, Musk said the company has completed 327 successful Falcon series launches and that about 80 percent of them had reused boosters (a key factor in reducing costs).

SpaceX is by far the most active launch entity on Earth, and Musk predicts that the company will send up roughly 90 percent of its orbital mass this year, compared to China’s 6 percent (the second largest entity).

Starship’s next and fourth spaceflight attempt, expected in May, aims to have the first stage of Super Heavy land “on essentially a virtual tower” in the Gulf of Mexico, Musk said. Once the company has done that safely, they will consider using the launch area at Starbase, in south Texas, for future landings once Flight 5. (Musk estimated the chance of success on Flight 4 at 80% or 90%.)

Musk also wants to land Starship’s upper stage twice in a row, in a controlled manner, before sending it to Starbase for a future flight. “We don’t want to rain debris on Mexico or the U.S.,” he said. “I guess next year we’ll probably be able to reuse Starship.”

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Overall, Musk plans for multiple Starship launches to take place this year, and suggests SpaceX will build another six spacecraft by the end of 2024. A new rocket factory should be available for the company by 2025, which would make production even faster.

Future versions of Starship will include a “Starship 2” to send 100 tons of payload to low Earth orbit and the 500-foot “Starship 3” for 200 or more tons. Larger vehicles, Musk pointed out, will mean fewer (four or five) refueling missions in low Earth orbit to ever get a spaceship ready for the journey to Mars.

Of these milestones, Musk said it would be “a very success-oriented schedule.” His speech made no mention of the Federal Aviation Administration, which must approve every launch, nor of ongoing criticism of Starship’s environmental impact on the environmentally sensitive area near Starbase.

That impact could continue to grow, as Musk said it would take about ten launches a day to send hundreds of vehicles to Mars every two years (when it is closest to the planet) for a long-term arrangement to be feasible to make. As for the number of people traveling to Mars, that would be roughly a million people, he said — that matches predictions he made back in 2017. Musk also says he wants to get the settlement off the ground “in 20 years.” He said the same thing in 2011.

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